ALBANY -- A study calling for a comprehensive overhaul of the way city streets are designed was adopted this week by the City Council. The Complete Streets study was approved by a 4-0 vote on Dec. 16 despite several complaints from merchants on San Pablo and Solano avenues worried about potential consequences to their businesses.

A Caltrans grant funded the study on ways to make San Pablo Avenue and Buchanan Street more accessible for pedestrians, bicyclists and other users besides motor traffic.

El Cerrito and San Pablo have compiled similar Complete Streets studies.

Albany Director of Community Development Jeff Bond emphasized that only the study was up for approval and that any implementation of the proposals in the study would go through the city's normal planning process. said the same thing.

"In itself, it doesn't lock in anything," Bond said. "It is a guidance document. We want to use this, but it's not a blueprint."

That did not salve skeptical merchants, however.

Speakers at the meeting overwhelmingly opposed adopting the study. Their specific concerns were plans to move a bus stop in the northbound direction of San Pablo Avenue at Solano Avenue from the southern side of the intersection to the northern side and plans to remove street parking along San Pablo to be replaced by street parking on Solano.

Michael Moule of Nelson Nygaard Associates, which put together the report, told the council that bus stops on the "nearside" of busy intersections (as the current stop is) cause more congestion. He added that AC Transit very much prefers stops on the far side of an intersection.

The issue of parking spaces was the most controversial.

Spaces on San Pablo would be removed to allow a safer bicycle lane. According to Moule, the lost spaces could be replaced by street parking on Solano if the current right-turn-only lanes on that street were removed.

Moule said that, at most, there might be a net loss of two or three parking spaces within 200 feet of the intersection, but it's possible there will be no net loss.

"I couldn't say for sure there would be no parking loss," Moule told the council.

Sangeeta Garcha, co-owner of Max's Liquors at the corner of San Pablo and Solano, said removing the parking right in front of the store (where the bus stop would be relocated) would be devastating for her business.

"The majority of the customers we get, they come down San Pablo," Garcha said. "They are not necessarily from Albany. If you were a customer driving down San Pablo, and there's no parking in front of my business, what are you going to do? You're going to go up Solano, make a U-turn and see if there's some parking on Solano? No, you aren't going to do that. You're going to keep going."

Business owners complained that figures used in the report about how much parking is being used are based on one day of observation, rather than an extensive study.

The project involved several study sessions and work with various advocacy groups as well as the general public. The merchants claimed their input wasn't sought.

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